Oct 26, 2023 - Economy

Exclusive: Hawley and Booker propose bipartisan child labor law legislation

Ship builders in Bangladesh have been accused of employing children. Photo: Kazi Salahuddin Razu/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are proposing a child labor crackdown, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The Department of Labor says it identified nearly 5,800 illegally employed children in the 2023 fiscal year, up 88% since 2019.

Driving the news: Hawley and Booker today plan to introduce the Preventing Child Labor Exploitation Act, which would:

  • Prevent the U.S. government from signing contracts with companies that've violated child labor laws — or with companies that do business with vendors that failed to rectify child worker violations.
  • Require companies vying for federal contracts to disclose past violations — and penalize them if they don't.
  • Empower the Labor Department to compile a list of violators that are ineligible for federal deals.

The intrigue: The tag-team of Hawley and Booker illustrates the gravity of the issue.

  • "Companies that illegally employ children must be held accountable — especially those that contract with the federal government," Hawley tells Axios in a statement. "This bipartisan legislation requires federal contractors to root out child labor in their operations and has the teeth to go after those who don't comply."
  • "We must ensure that federal contracts support good-paying jobs, and do not benefit corporations that continue to rely on children working in dangerous environments," Booker tells Axios in a statement, adding that "employers have shielded themselves from any accountability by relying on third-party vendors with long records of labor infractions."

The big picture: The congressional legislation comes as lawmakers in several states have taken steps to weaken long-standing child labor laws.

  • Advocates for loosened labor laws say that employers need more flexibility to hire younger workers amid labor shortages.
  • In some states, kids as young as 14 are legally joining the workforce.

Go deeper: American companies using illegal child labor

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